“Sport has the power to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
This seemed to be the central theme of the night for the ESPY Awards on Wednesday, July 13th 2016. The ABC Network sports award show hosted many of the biggest names in sports last night in downtown Los Angeles. Hosted by John Cena, the overnight metered market data reported by Programming Insider disclosed that Wednesday’s awards show averaged a 4.3 overnight household rating (down from 6.0 in 2015). Although a few awards were handed out during the live show such as Best Moment, Best Comeback Athlete and Best Breakthrough Athlete, it seemed that the 2016 ESPYS allowed the athletes to use the platform in a more personal fashion.
To understand where this all started, you’d have to look back to the 1993 ESPY Awards when Jim Valvano gave his legendary speech during his battle with cancer urging viewers “Don’t give up…don’t ever give up.” Since that night ESPN started The V Foundation raising money for cancer research. Yesterday was also ESPN’s 2nd annual “ESPY Day” to benefit The V Foundation for Cancer Research and its new Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund raised more than $3.85 million for cancer research leading up to the show. ESPY Day – a day-long fundraising drive across multiple ESPN platforms — included the 11th annual ESPN Radio ESPY Day Auction, the 15th annual ESPY Golf Outing and the inaugural Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards. To date, ESPY-related fundraising efforts have raised more than $26 million for cancer research.
Now back to the evening of July 13th. It is normal for us to see so many of these big names in the sports world dressed in jerseys or uniforms and with athletic shoes or apparel on. However, it is quite a different take to watch them a little uncomfortable perhaps and dressed in suits and dresses walking (sometime awkwardly) down the red carpet to take their seats at a prestigious awards show. The 2016 ESPY show started in a somber, yet powerful fashion. Instead of the typical big name band opening up the show, the camera panned over the super-friend NBA All-Star foursome; Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. Each player pleaded with the audience sending out the message that “Enough is enough,” urging the sports community and beyond to end violence. John Cena did his best to take the stage following the PSA, to lighten the mood and begin his monologue by ripping some of the athletes in a friendly yet comical fashion, but the tone seemed to be set for the night.
ABC did not air the presentation of the typical sports awards such as Best NBA Player, Best Coach or Best Game. Although, users with the ESPN app were getting notifications about these awards, they were not aired Live during the 3+ hour award show. Instead, emotionally-charged awards were aired such as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award given out to Zaevion Dobson and the Pat Tillman Award for Service given out to Elizabeth Marks. Breanna Stewart was awarded Best Female Athlete, and as she took the podium it was clear she had a message she wanted to convey demanding equal recognition for female athletes stating “Let’s do better.” Craig Sager, the TNT NBA sideline reporter diagnosed with cancer, was awarded the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, as there wasn’t a dry eye in the building.
By the end of the night it was obvious that many of these all-star athletes wanted to mirror what past athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and Jim Brown had done with their celebrity voice. To set a positive example to children, the sports community and society as a whole to stand for what you believe in.
Click here for a list of all the winners from last night: